Healing From Emotional Abuse: MST Military Sexual Trauma Movement: with Traci Sharpe

Healing From Emotional Abuse: MST Military Sexual Trauma Movement: with Traci Sharpe
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Can you heal from abuse?  What do I do after leaving my narcissist? What does a healthy relationship look like? These concerns cross the minds of over 20 people every minute; over 28,800 people every day.  And the sad fact is, we still don’t talk about it enough.  Healing from Emotional Abuse isn’t a bandaid situation.  But it doesn’t have to take years either. The lives of millions of other survivors around the worlds have been impacted by their narcissist.  Yours doesn’t have to.  To show you how to live a free, confident and peaceful life, your host and Founder of the Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy, Marissa F. Cohen.

Marissa: Welcome back to Healing From Emotional Abuse. Recently, we’ve been talking to a lot of people that work with military or were military, in response to IAmVanessaGuillen and MST the problems that were happening at Fort Hood and throughout the military. So today, I wanted to bring on a coalition member of mine and a friend Traci Sharpe, she’s a mom of four, a grandma of one, a champion and an advocate. She works primarily with domestic violence and sexual assault victims. She’s worked for the Marine Corps since 2011, as a Content Developer, and Training Specialist. She’s here today because she thinks it’s important to talk about sexual misconduct in the workplace. She wants people to know that they are not alone. And she would like to be a voice for the voiceless. Welcome, Traci, thank you so much for coming on today.

Traci: Hi, Marissa. Thanks for having me.

Marissa: Of course, I’m so happy that you’re here! So let’s get started. Would you mind telling us your story?

Traci: Yes. So as you mentioned, I worked for the Marine Corps since 2011. In 2013, I became the victim of MST sexual harassment. Through that very difficult time, and you know, my case is still moving, so it hasn’t been resolved. But what I learned through that process was to manage my expectations, because there is, you know, a series of cover ups. There’s a system in place that protects the creditor, and not the actual victim, which was really difficult for me because as someone who worked in behavioral health, who worked with sexual assault, who worked with victims of domestic violence, it was unbelievable, what happens.

Marissa: Are you comfortable or able to tell us what happened or no?

Traci: Absolutely, I can. So I was actually the head of a training team. And around 2013, the organization decided there needed to be a reset. So they needed more Greenside representation — meaning that Marines needed to be more present in the training field. So when we would go out to not only train but to collect information, there needed to be more than just civilians. There needed to be Marines, so that the Marines felt comfortable. And so around that time, they brought in a Marine who had previously been a colleague. We had a decent working rapport. So it wasn’t a friendship, it was just someone that I knew. And things got a little sticky there. So in hindsight, I can see where the grooming began. And I can see where the enablers inserted themselves. But I can tell you what’s going on. It was in the newspaper, it was all over the news. The harassment turned to threats. And those threats caused some issues for me professionally and personally. So that marine after a series of investigations and cover ups, finally, he was seen before Board of Inquiry, and the board found him guilty in October of 2018. And it took the Marine Corps until February of 2020, to actually separate him, according to the board’s recommendations.

Marissa: That’s disgusting. So after he was found guilty of harassment and sexual misconduct, he was still in his position for…

Traci: For 14 months.

Marissa: That’s disgusting. So he was totally protected. And meanwhile, what were you going through?

Traci: In the beginning, I just asked for a safety plan. And the Marine Corps refused to draft, one give, one or enforce one. So I even had my attorney sends documentation and also a request and it was ignored. Eventually, it became too much for me to be on the base and I went on workman’s comp. With that being said, the Marine Corps after 11 months decided they wanted to pull the workman’s comp and have me go back to work with him. And that was just not an option for me. So as you know, I have not worked since or had a paycheck or any income coming in since March of 2019. So while he was able to get a master’s degree, and stay in his uniform, and stay at one active duty until he was able to retire, I on the other hand, I’ve had my entire life dismantled and basically been sold to put it back together.

Marissa: That’s not okay. That’s very perpetrator-centered.

Traci: Exactly. And that was one of the reasons I wanted to speak out because I don’t want other victims to feel like whatever they’re experiencing, they’re alone. There are a lot of tactics that are used, and a lot of narratives that are employed. So, you know, there’s a lot of gaslighting. There’s a lot that goes on with it. And I remember at one time, and not to be too graphic, but to let you know, with him showing me his penis, I was asked whether or not it was a mistake. Whether I actually saw what I saw. And for me, that is just that’s the disgusting part is being questioned all the time.

Marissa: Right. You’re the one that’s being really investigated when they were the one that was accused.

Traci: Absolutely.

Marissa: Wow, that’s like equivalent to asking a victim what they were wearing.

Traci: Oh, I was asked that.

Marissa: Were you?

Traci: Yes. So I was asked… The series of questions that I was asked are just beyond disgusting.

Marissa: And you think that with social media and people blowing that up, and they’ve even had parts of museums, like exhibits of museums centered around these stupid questions, you’d think that they would get the hint to stop asking them. Because they’re not relevant. What else could you  have possibly seen?

Traci: Right. One would think that would be the case, but it isn’t. So the one thing I want to point out is, you know, my experience with the military — uniforms can be really intoxicating. And I can remember even being on hiring panels where I felt like if we hired an individual, they were just ripe for abuse. You know? Because of the fact that uniforms are intoxicating. And there are a lot of people who can’t separate one from the other. So the loyalty is to the uniform, not to morals, not to values, not to individuals. And you find a lot of leaders that really just want to get in and get out. They don’t see that there’s anything wrong with what’s going on. And as a matter of fact, there was a general in my case, who even caught the conversation around the sexual harassment. The crude and nasty comments he made were referred to as frat boy humor. And it isn’t funny.

Marissa: I think that rank also plays a huge part in it. I’ve been talking to people now for a couple weeks about what they’ve experienced in the military, or working with the military, and leaders, and generals, and commanders taking advantage of their rank.  Knowing that the people that they harass or abuse that are under them, or below them in rank, it’s going to end up coming back up to them anyways. They’re kind of stuck.

Traci: Yes.

Marissa: And that’s a total abuse of power.

Traci: It really is. And I think it’s so subtle at times, it isn’t recognized. And that’s why I’m a proponent of even prosecuting the enablers. Because this isn’t a crime that is committed solo. There are people that help these perpetrators. They cover for them, they encourage the behavior in a lot of ways.

Marissa: Silence is encouragement, you know? If you see a battle buddy, or you see somebody —a brother or sister in uniform, doing something bad, or doing something inappropriate or sexual, then say something. And it’s unfortunate because there are policies in place that you protect each other. And that kind of protects the perpetrators, doesn’t it?

Traci: It’s supposed to. And I will tell you this. You know, there are a lot of policies in place, and we can read them all day long. If no one enforced system, they are nonexistent. And that’s what happens a lot of times is that it becomes more so about protecting your buddy than it is about enforcing the policy and protecting everyone else.

Marissa: Do you still work for the Marines?

Traci: I am in the process of phasing out at this point. I have an active EEO case, pending. And once that is done, I will phase out and work on my nonprofit, which is Which Narrative. So that was the other thing. In 2019, I began Which Narrative, and that was to help victims identify where they fall in the process. One of the things I can tell you is that I knew who I was prior to this happening. All the ambitions, goals and everything else that I had, the dreams I had for myself, I can tell you exactly what they were. I can tell you that my voice was lost in this ordeal. And afterwards, I’m a completely different person. And so rather than being told who I am, rather than being judged, and rather than buying into the things that were said, “What was she wearing? What type of perfume did she have on? Was she seductive towards you in any way?”  Changing that narrative to say that I am an adult woman. I’m a professional first and foremost. And I know how to conduct myself in a workplace. So unfortunately, victims are taught to believe that they’re the ones that are in error. So if you wear a button down shirt, maybe you should have had on a turtleneck, you know? Or if you wear a skirt that comes to your knees, you should have had one down to your ankles. And it’s just one of those things where we have to change the dialogue, we have to change the narrative.

Marissa: I love that. So when you were going through the whole mess with being investigated, and even after he was found guilty, and he was still there, what did you do to keep yourself sane; to heal; to process?

Traci: So I’m a big proponent for mental health. And I knew I needed to speak to someone because it was beyond the bandwidth of family, friends, and even people who were supportive. I needed professional help. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, social anxiety, and also depression. So I knew that it wasn’t a lifestyle I wanted to live. I had to find someone that could help me with those coping mechanisms, or helped me, give me the tools I needed so that I could cope, and still be the person that I was called to be. 

Marissa: That’s amazing. So you went to therapy?

Traci: Yes, I did. Yes.

Marissa: That’s phenomenal. I’m really proud of you being first of all, open and honest with me and listeners to your mental health. I think that more people talking about it will have less of a stigma and less of like a taboo conversation. Does that make sense?

Traci: It does, it absolutely does. And I will say this. I heard a long time ago that victims become the best actors and actresses you’ll meet. And it didn’t make sense to me then. And it made sense to me, after it impacted my life so heavily. Because you get to a place where you get up and you smile long enough to accomplish whatever you need to accomplish. Like I said, I’m raising — I have four children, and I have two minors at this point. And you can’t parent from being in bed, you know. I couldn’t parent on the couch. I couldn’t hide from the sun. You know, they’re active, and they’re involved. And so you get to a place where you smile long enough to go do what you need to do. And then you get back and you’re like, “Ah, now I can pull the curtains and hide from the sun.” And so I want other people to know, it’s okay to not be okay. And the only way to get through that is to get the help that’s needed. Don’t ever think that something is wrong with you when you need help. You need it and seek it out. And I’m all for it.

Marissa: Absolutely. As part of my healing program, my coaching program, the fourth step is finding resources that work for you. So therapy is amazing. And it helps a lot of people, but it might not help everyone. And so finding those things, and those techniques and those activities that do help you cope beyond the smile, and try and go on with your day until you can hide, finding the things that help you work through that is really, really important. So what advice would you give to survivors who experienced something similar to what you did?

Traci: So I would say manage your expectations. That’s one of the biggest things that I’ve pushed, because I think we expect people to understand what’s going on with us. And we expect the support. And there are a lot of people that don’t know how. So I would say manage your expectations. Find a solid support system for yourself. And it’s okay to interchange those people. Like I have one person that I’ll call when I’m having a great day. Someone else I’ll call when I’m slipping. And then there’s someone that I talked to when I’ve made a fall. That will be the second thing. And just make sure you’re listening to yourself, your gut tells you what you need. And let’s not ignore what our guts tell us, and make sure that we’re being true to ourselves.

Marissa: I really like that you touched on that you have certain people that you turn to in certain situations. That’s really important. You know, knowing who you have around you as a resource. Who can be there for you in a moment of need. I would love for anyone listening to sit down right now and think about three people in your life that you can call when you’re feeling depressed; when you’re feeling anxious; when you’re feeling triggered, that you trust, that you know will be there to support you.

Traci: Yes, it’s really important in to have those people on hand. So forward thinking is the other thing. I think that a lot of times we get to a place where we think we’re okay. And we say okay, we’re beyond this. It won’t happen. But what we forget, or what we aren’t aware of is that there are a lot of times when we’re triggered, and just out of nowhere, you know. There are times when I can see someone in uniform and I’m triggered, and not that they’ve done anything to me, but it brings it back, you know?

Marissa: Yeah, absolutely. It might not be like a full on panic attack. But if your heart starts racing, there’s so many different signs of being triggered or being traumatized. You know, it manifests in so many different ways that being self-aware enough to recognize those and then make a phone call to somebody.

Traci: Yes, absolutely. One of the things I wanted to touch on was to make sure that people aren’t allowing themselves to be minimized. One of the challenges I faced was, because it was a non-penetrative event, I was told there was no trauma associated with it. And so I want to make sure the other thing is that, you know, we’re not minimizing these experiences and the impact they have on us.

Marissa: Yeah, absolutely. I’m so happy. You said that. All the time, people will call me or write to me and say, oh, well, you know, my experience wasn’t as bad as somebody else’s. You know, I wasn’t like actually raped or assaulted. It doesn’t matter. I love that you said that Traci, because it really it doesn’t need to be penetrative. In order for it to be traumatizing.

Traci: Absolutely. Excellent. We’re on the same page. Absolutely. And, you know, these instances, there are lifelong consequences. So I know that I have to, for the rest of my life, have a plan in place, because I never know when I’m going to need that support system. Or when I’ll need to be back in therapy, or when I need to modify the way I eat, or whatever it is I’m doing in my life. I know that for the rest of my life, I will have to take inventory of where I am, what’s going on around me and who I can reach out to.

Marissa: And I’m glad to hear that you have people around you that you feel supported by and that empower you and help you overcome all those things that you’ve endured.

Traci: Thank you. And I thank you because you’re one of them. Thank you.

Marissa: I appreciate that. Thank you. Is there anything else that you want to talk about that I didn’t ask about?

Traci: No, I think we’ve covered it. I’ll just reiterate. Reach out, manage your expectations and reach out. We believe you. We have a solid support system. Never let anyone minimize you or your experience and just know that there are other people out there ready to support.

Marissa: I love it. And I cannot wait to see the amazing things that you do with Which Narrative. As soon as that’s up and running. Please let me know we can collaborate on something with my nonprofit. I think you do like a big initiative or something.

Tracy: Yes.

If you enjoyed this podcast, you have to check out www.MarissaFayeCohen.com/Private-Coaching. Marissa would love to develop a made-for-you healing plan to heal from emotional abuse. She does all the work, and you just show up. Stop feeling stuck, alone, and hurt, and live a free, confident, and peaceful life.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the Healing From Emotional Abuse podcast, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marissafcohen, and instagram @Marissa.Faye.Cohen. We’d love to see you there!

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